It's 4 on a Thursday morning. I'm wide awake because my 4-year-old grandson, Henry—enjoying a "sleepover" with Nana while Mom and Dad are out of town—woke up at 3 with a sore throat. After a trip to the potty and a few sips of juice, he has drifted back to sleep. If he wakes up cured in the morning, he can go to preschool, as planned, then enjoy his afternoon play date with cousin Mikayla. My day, too, will go as planned. But if Henry's middle-of-the-night sore throat greets the morning, the day's priority will immediately shift: together we willl snuggle up under a fuzzy blanket and watch The Velveteen Rabbit—again. My morning meeting will be cancelled, and I'll have to bow out of the fancy-schmancy luncheon I've been invited to.

No big deal.

At age 29, 39, or even 49, I might have been undone by a last-minute change of plans. Especially in December. The crazy month. The season of peace and joy during which I have often been frustrated and miserable.

But not this year. Several weeks ago I celebrated my 59 birthday. I find this shocking, and for the most part I would rather be younger. But I have to admit there is something to be said for the perspective (dare I say wisdom?) that the years have given me.

Here's the main difference between me at 29 and me at 59: I used to think that everything mattered. Now I realize that very little matters.

I used to think that festive yet elegant Christmas decorations mattered. I used to think that hosting big parties mattered. I used to think that buying gifts for everyone who might possibly expect a gift mattered. I used to think that sending Christmas cards mattered. And that beautiful wrapping paper mattered. And that sophisticated holiday menus mattered.

But no more.

This year I've hit an all-time Christmas-decorating low. Last night Henry and I dug through boxes in the basement and found what we were looking for: two small nativity scenes, both handcrafted in African villages, and one olive wood carving of Mary and Jesus, made by Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. We also selected a Waterford angel given to me years ago by a kind church member and a Saint Nicholas figurine from my sister-in-law. I have an aesthetic bias against Santa Claus decorations, but I love this old-fashioned Saint Nick. I may also get a $4 mini evergreen for Henry to decorate. Maybe not.

Part of the decorating pressure of previous years was driven by The Party. For years, on December 23, Bill and I hosted a party for a random (and large) assortment of friends, many coming in from out-of-state to attend a Christmas service at our church. After the service a parade of cars would inch through the snowy neighborhood to our driveway. The house would be shimmering, the table heavily-laden, and the standing-room-only crowd in a festive mood. It was a lot of work, but it always seemed worth it—until recently. The past few years, as schedules have become more frantic, we have felt that we might serve our friends better by giving them a December night off rather than another party to attend. Nobody complained when we decided not to host the event this year.

But I have several dates scheduled with close friends, and I can't wait for those. Next week a group of women I've been meeting with for years is coming for dinner. (Bill will be hiding out in some corner of the house.) I'll prepare my favorite comfort-food: a simple cassoulet made with white beans and sweet sausage. Christine will bring an appetizer, Aliece green beans, Mindy a salad, Leanne a loaf of warm bread, and Linda dessert. Lisa and Dee, if they can sneak away from previous commitments, don't have to bring anything at all. We will be thrilled to see them.

I gave up sending Christmas cards years ago. I love reading the cards and Christmas letters I receive from friends, but I can't for the life of me figure out how they manage to get them done. I haven't given up on gift-giving altogether, but I definitely land on the minimal side of the continuum. And I focus as much as possible on fair-trade buying: Trade As One has become my online choice for everything from coffee and chocolate to jewelry and scarves. Tom's Shoes also gets my vote as an excellent way to give meaningful gifts.

I haven't bought Christmas wrapping for several years. I managed to make do with odds and ends of ribbon and paper left from previous years. The odds and ends are gone now, so I have to get creative this year. I'm considering a long roll of pale brown postal paper. I have a great "Peace, Joy, Love" rubber stamp and a red ink pad. It won't be fancy, but I think peace, joy, and love on pale paper will work.

Peace, joy, love. For so many years, these qualities eluded me, especially in December. It's taken me half a century to learn that I was allowing things that didn't matter to rob me of what matters most: nurturing internal peace so I can be a peacemaker, living with a depth of joy that spills joy onto others, and experiencing the fullness of God's love so I can love freely. Only if I slow down long enough to let the Spirit of Jesus be born anew in me each day can I manifest the peace, joy, and love he offers to me and to a frantic, frenzied world.

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As it turns out, Henry was fine when he woke up this morning, so I dropped him off at preschool. That means I can attend my meeting, then dress up for my fancy-schmancy luncheon. But honestly, I was getting excited about the thought of spending the day snuggled up with Henry and The Velveteen Rabbit.

Lynne Hybels is an advocate for global engagement at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. She is the author of Nice Girls Don't Change the World and blogs at She has written for Her.meneutics about dangerous women. Lynne and her husband, Bill, have two adult children.